CEMETERY OF SPLENDOUR (Thailand/UK/Germany/France/Malaysia/South Korea/Mexico/USA/Norway/IFI/122mins)
Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Starring Jenjira Pongpas, Banlop Lomnoi, Jarinpattra Rueangram, Petcharat Chaiburi, Tawatchai Buawat, Sujittraporn Wongsrikeaw.
A sleeping sickness has struck a ramshackle country hospital, with voluntary nurse Jen (Widner) tending largely to Itt (Lomnoi), bed-ridden and suffering from nacroleptsy. As the entire hospital seems to be asleep – and we never learn why – Jen uses a psychic medium (Rueangram) to communicate with her patient.
And, er, that’s it…
THE VERDICT: One of those singular directors who dares to have a distinct, and brazenly non-commercial, voice, Apichatpong Weeasethakul is the sort of filmmaker who would give Harvey Weinstein a heart attack. And for that alone, we should be eternally grateful.
Not that this particular slaphead film critic has fallen under the Thai filmmaker’s spell as yet. The acclaimed ‘Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives’ was a strange and wonderful film that didn’t quite so much send a shiver up my spine as simply left me cold. As with much of Apichatpong’s work, on paper, I loved the concept and the imagery of ‘Uncle Boonmee’. Up on screen, the fecker just irritated the crap out of me.
With ‘Cemetery Of Splendour’, the Palme D’Or-winning filmmaker has certainly delivered one of his more accessible film, but it still fecks with the oul’ head. In the best possible taste, of course. But, hey, Weerasethakul is an acquired taste, and staunchly so, which means fans will love this. Whereas thickos like me just don’t quite get it.
Review by Paul Byrne

Cemetery of Splendour
Review by Paul Byrne
2.0An acquired taste
  • filmbuff2011

    Idiosyncratic Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul follows up his metaphysical drama Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives with an equally cryptic drama in the (formless) shape of Cemetery Of Splendour.

    Jenjira (Jenjira Pongpas) is a nurse who volunteers to work at a former schoolhouse that’s been converted into a care centre for convalescing soldiers. These soldiers are young men who have been struck down by a strange sleeping illness. Also working there is medium Keng (Jarinpattra Rueangram), who communicates with the dormant soldiers and relates their thoughts to their families. One soldier she’s assigned to care for, Itt (Banlop Lomnoi), awakens from his slumber. Jenjira and Itt get to know each other over the course of the film, even if he feels dislocated. Meanwhile, just outside the care centre, a former regal cemetery is being bulldozed to make way for modern conveniences…

    Cemetery Of Splendour has no mysterious monkey creatures with glowing red eyes peering out of the forest, as in Weerasethakul’s previous film. What it does have though is a firm sense of place and time. The past, the present and the future will all be united through these three characters. The way that Weerasethakul does this is quite subtle, like when he superimposes an image of moving escalators in a shopping centre over the sleeping soldiers bathed in glowing red light. This is suggesting that the world moves on while the soldiers sleep. Time stops for no man, especially the young.

    Then again, he also lingers for what seems like forever on images of clouds, rotating fans and other objects and environments. This is where the film gets frustrating and increasingly obtuse. Just what is that microscopic organism moving across the sky? And what’s it got to do with the story? You won’t find any easy answers here. A connection to the spirit world and a strong sense of something otherwordly out there is a familiar aspect of Asian cinema. However, some Asian films are too tied into their own culture to be comprehensible to an international audience. This is perhaps why Cemetery Of Splendour ultimately proves to be unsuccessful. It has some good ideas and is a moody think-piece, but is mired in too much of its own self-importance to make any real lasting impact. Missable. **